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After Dems try to oust Smollett judge, Cook County judges forego long-established group donation to party

In a rare display of political independence at election time, judges voted 42-13 against donating to the party’s get-out-the-vote efforts as they typically would. 

Judge Michael Toomin attends the induction ceremony for 34 newly elected Cook County circuit judges at the Thompson Center. Monday, December 3, 2012. I Brian Jackson~Sun-Times
Judge Michael Toomin at the Thompson Center in 2012.
Sun-Times file photo

Cook County judges facing retention on the November ballot voted Wednesday night to forgo the long-established practice of making a group donation to the Democratic Party to help promote their campaign—partly in protest of the party’s efforts to oust Judge Michael Toomin.

In a rare display of political independence at election time, judges voted 42-13 against donating to the party’s get-out-the-vote efforts as they typically would.

The Cook County Democratic Party voted earlier this week to oppose the retention of Toomin, a veteran judge who named former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb as a special prosecutor to review State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s handling of the Jussie Smollett case.

The party’s move to dump Toomin brought immediate accusations from the judge and others that he had been singled out in retaliation for embarrassing Foxx, who faces re-election this year.

But party officials said Toomin was targeted because of his work as the presiding judge at Juvenile Court, criticizing his “imperial” temperament and “outdated approach” to juvenile justice issues.

Democrats had sought a $40,000 donation from the Committee for Retention of Judges in Cook County, which represents 59 judges on this year’s retention ballot. It’s the same amount the judges committee gave two years ago.

The money was expected to be used to pay for a pair of campaign mailers urging Democratic voters to vote “YES” for all the retention judges, with the exception of Toomin and Judge Mauricio Araujo.

Araujo was not supported for retention because he has been the subject of numerous sexual harassment complaints and because he issued more than 80 search warrants to two Chicago police officers convicted of using them to commit crimes.

The retention committee released a statement after the two and a half hour Zoom meeting.

“Our legal system is based on the principle that an independent, fair and competent judiciary will interpret and apply the laws that govern us…Participating and supporting a plan that includes opposing one of our colleagues, Judge Michael Toomin, who embodies those principles, is a concern and something we as the 2020 retention class cannot support,” said Hanah Jubeh, a political consultant working on behalf of the judges.

Elected Circuit Court judges in Illinois face a retention vote every six years. To stay on the bench, they need the approval of at least 60 percent of those voting.

Historically, the Democratic Party has supported all Cook County judges for retention, regardless of their bar ratings or political affiliation, a practice that also has drawn criticism.

The party deviated from that practice in 2018 to support a campaign by community groups seeking to dump Judge Matthew Coghlan over his prior role as a prosecutor in a wrongful conviction case.

After that effort succeeded, Cook County Democratic Chairman Toni Preckwinkle promised to target more judges for defeat in the future in the interest of judicial accountability.

The $40,000 group donation is separate from individual donations of $10,000 or more that judicial candidates are typically expected to pony up to the Democratic Party to get elected in the first place if they receive the party’s endorsement.

Toomin, 82, was first elected to the bench in 1984 and has served as presiding judge in Juvenile court since 2010. In his previous retention bids, he has always received favorable ratings from the bar associations and been supported by the Democratic Party, although he was originally elected as a Republican.